Less Than A Year After Neil Diamond Retired, He Returned To The Stage For One Very Special Reason

After a five-decade career, songwriter Neil Diamond decided to call it quits in 2018. But despite being kept off the stage by a debilitating illness, the “Solitary Man” singer felt the need for one last performance. And he decided to honor a few very special fans with a surprising comeback gig that summer.

With a name perfectly suited for stardom, Diamond seemed destined for big things. However, things weren’t so easy for this Brooklyn-born singer at first. After being dropped from his label in 1963, the star found work as a songwriter behind the scenes. And it wasn’t until “I’m a Believer” – which became a hit single for the Monkees in 1966 – that the star got his first taste of success.

Before penning a breakout single, though, Diamond went through a patch of near-poverty. Indeed, the experience helped him craft dark and brooding numbers like “Solitary Man.” Somewhat surprisingly, this somber change in direction was just what the singer’s career needed. And it resulted in Diamond’s first hit as a solo artist upon its 1966 release.

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In the wake of “Solitary Man’s” success, the burgeoning star released several hits that would cement his legendary status. In particular, 1969’s “Sweet Caroline” became Diamond’s signature song, one rumored to be about John F. Kennedy’s daughter with the same name. “[It] was about my wife at the time,” Diamond admitted to the Today show in 2014. “Her name was Marsha – and I couldn’t get a ‘Marsha’ rhyme.”

Since first making it big, Diamond has been one of music’s most enduring stars. In the intervening years, the singer has seen ten singles reach the top of the charts, won a Grammy in 1973 and sold over 130 million records. Meanwhile, his songs have been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley.

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Through it all, though, “Sweet Caroline” has proved to be Diamond’s greatest success and a song that’s carved a unique legacy in popular music. For instance, the single became a linchpin of Boston Red Sox games following its first play at Fenway Park in 1997. It became so iconic, in fact, that, after the 2013 Boston Marathon terror attack, Diamond donated its profits to aid the tragedy’s victims.

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In fact, 2018 would have seen the star embark on a tour of Australasia in celebration of his career’s 50th anniversary. However, fate would deal a harsh blow to both Diamond and his millions of fans. On January 22 – just two days before his 77th birthday – the singer announced that he has Parkinson’s disease.

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As a result, the famed singer had no choice but to pull out of touring for good. “The onset of the disease has made it difficult to travel and perform on a large-scale basis,” read a press release on the singer’s website. Nevertheless, the statement assured fans that “Mr. Diamond [will] continue his writing, recording and development of new projects.”

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“I have been so honored to bring my shows to the public for the past 50 years,” Diamond added to the site. And using a line from his most beloved song, the singer affirmed just how much he appreciated his audiences’ love and support. “The ride has been ‘so good, so good, so good,’ thanks to you,” he concluded.

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Since making the shock announcement, Diamond hasn’t been entirely out of the public eye, however. Most notably, he stepped out to receive a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award during the summer of 2018. But mostly, the singer has been taking it easy alongside his wife, Kate McNeil, at his Colorado home.

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Nevertheless, Diamond’s domestic bliss would soon be shattered by a surprising development closer to home. In the early evening of July 3, 2018, a fire broke out at a shooting range in the town of Basalt, near the singer’s home. And within hours, the blaze had engulfed not only Basalt’s wooded areas, but those of nearby Carbondale as well.

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During the course of its two-month path of destruction, what became known as the Lake Christine Fire caused unimaginable damage to the surrounding area. In total, the inferno consumed 12,500 acres, while three homes were burnt to cinders. Meanwhile, inhabitants of 500 households were cleared while relief centers were opened in both Basalt and Carbondale.

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Of course, the townsfolk’s safety would not have been possible without the efforts of the Colorado fire service. And by the first week of September 2018, the team of brave firefighters had managed to contain the blaze. Naturally, residents of the area were grateful for their service – none more so than Diamond, who found an incredible way to repay their hard work.

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On July 28 – midway through the service’s arduous fight – Diamond dropped by Basalt’s Incident Command unit, alongside his wife. As the singer took to the center’s make-shift stage, guitar in hand, the rapturous applause he received from the heroes gathered showed just how much his imminent gesture meant. “Now you have to save my house,” he joked to the room.

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As the hundred-odd service men and women prepared themselves for the celeb’s first performance in half a year, Diamond made sure they knew they were the real stars. “I want to take you all home,” he said. “I want to give you a kiss… And I just want to say thank you from the people of this area.”

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“This town has not been this happy since… I don’t know,” the storied singer continued. “I’ve been here for 20 years and you’ve made everybody happier. The heaviness on our hearts is gone and we know the cavalry is here and we say thank you to each of you for making this trip.”

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After showing the firefighters his gratitude, Diamond then began to give the crowd their real prize. Sitting down in front of a microphone, the star launched into “Sweet Caroline.” The joy in the room at that moment was palpable. Indeed – with the audience singing along with every refrain – it may have just been the most special gig of Diamond’s entire career.

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Throughout the star’s short set, Diamond’s audience had been readily recording the performance. And after posting the footage on the Lake Christine Fire Facebook page, fans were floored by the musician’s generosity. “Neil Diamond has always been one of my favorite singers,” wrote Annie Christian. “Today, he has been elevated to my HERO.”

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Though this recent gig may be the last Diamond will play for a while, fans can still expect to hear more from the singer in the future, however. “I still have my voice,” the star told the Associated Press in August. “I just can’t do the traveling that I once did, but I have my wife there supporting me, [as well as my] friends.”

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And despite the singer’s current health issues, we’re glad to hear that Diamond is still managing to find sunshine through the clouds – for himself and for others too. “It does have its challenges, but I’m feeling good and I feel very positive about it,” he continued. “I’m feeling better every day. Just dealing with it as best as I can, and just keep the music coming.”

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